Friday, January 22, 2010

Orange Bowl Experience

During the 28 years of announcing for the Hawks, I have announced numerous bowl games and enjoyed them all, but there was something special about this Orange Bowl experience. Just being part of this great season of accomplishments by this group of players and coaches is a reward in itself, but to then travel with them to South Florida put it over the top. To add to the enjoyment, all of my family was able to join me.

I got into Ft Lauderdale on Jan. 1st and boarded my friend Ed Hawes' yacht parked at a marina in old town. It's a beautiful Broward with four state-rooms, so there was plenty of space for Vicki, Emily and Laura to join me. The media hotel was only 10 minutes away and Land Shark Stadium only 15 minutes. South Beach was a ways off, but that's okay as my late night party days are in the rear view mirror.

My buddy Jimmy Buffett picked me up Sunday morning and we took off for the Dolphins-Steelers game at Land Shark Stadium. Jimmy and I have been friends for over 30 years and our busy schedules don't allow us to see much of each other. Jimmy was meeting with the owner of the Dolphins to try to extend the naming rights to the stadium. (Landshark is the name of Jimmy's lager beer and his naming rights were expiring). Jimmy in his flip flops and me in my Iowa Hawkeyes golf shirt, surely stood out in the owner’s suite but we made the business pitch and then escaped to Jimmy’s suite to enjoy the rest of the game.

After the game, Jimmy dropped me back at the boat and I tried to get him to come back down to Landshark Stadium on Tuesday to cheer on the Hawkeyes. He told me he was on his way to Tahiti to write songs. When I pushed him to stay he said, "Podi, I've got to go, you don't want me to be late for work do you". I like a guy who is dedicated. We taped a pre-game show and waved goodbye. He was wearing his Hawkeye Orange Bowl hat as he drove off.

The Hawkeye Huddle on game day eve was the place to be. Thousands of Hawkeye fans crowded into the Miami Beach Convention Center for a strong dose of Hawkeye mania. The Hawkeye Band and Spirit Squad pumped everyone up, but the highlight for me was the introduction of the players parents. To see the tears in the eyes of Adrian Clayborn's Mother, when she heard the roar from the crowd when she was introduced says it all. There is nothing like being a Hawkeye.

Dolph and I then headed to South Beach and a Hawkeye Radio Network radio show. There were Hawk fans everywhere; I don't remember seeing many Georgia Tech fans. It was chilly, but the Hawk fans were on a mission to let the Orange Bowl Committee know that they made the right decision in choosing the Hawkeyes. There were lines everywhere and Dolph and I had to go through the back door to get to our broadcast point. The Iowa fight song rang thru the streets and Hawkeye mania engulfed South Beach.

Game day is always tough on players when it becomes game night. If is difficult to control your excitement until 5:30 when the buses leave for the stadium. It is then that a player "gets his game face on". That time seems like it will never come as you sit around the hotel trying to control your emotions. Coaches worry about players burning up energy worrying about their assignments all day, so this is always the toughest part of preparation for an 8:00 kick off. All of the wonderful bowl experiences are behind you and now it is time to play.

When Dolph and I settled in to our broadcast booth I felt confident that the Hawks were ready. The question in my mind was how long would it take for the defense to adjust to the speed of the Georgia Tech option offense. Well, I had it all wrong. The story was that Georgia Tech never adjusted to the speed of the Iowa defense. The defense smothered them and defensive coordinator Norm Parker deserves the game ball. The offense was efficient and the special teams solid and the defense spectacular. Sounds like a Kirk Ferentz designed and coached team. That formula worked for 11 victories for the 2009 season and the biggest bowl victory in 50 years.

What a wonderful ending to a season with some of the most exciting moments of my 28 years of broadcasting. It's time to head to Costa Rica for a little R and R. Go Hawks!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Listening to Jerry Jeff Walker Christmas carols in sunny Colorado

The end of the regular season has provided free time to enjoy some of my past times. Traveling, hunting, golf, visiting family and friends and fishing in Costa Rica. It's been a grand time and now it's off to San Francisco to celebrate Christmas with the family. Daughter Laura, the ex Hawkeye basketball player is finishing her third year at KGO Radio in San Fran and is the president of the Bay Area I-Club. She'll entertain us until the whole Podolak family heads for the Orange Bowl.

The Hawks have provided us with a great fall of football so we have that experience to add to all of the things to be thankful for in 2009. Now the players are working overtime (under the NCAA rules) to get 2010 started right. They know that it is quite an honor to be selected to the BCS Orange Bowl and are paying the price to be at the top of their game. The bowl season is especially rewarding because it allows the team to spend some special time together. Over a players college career one develops strong friendships with team mates who you'll be close to for life. This time for the seniors gives them a few more weeks to enjoy being around each other. The team travels together, lives together and eats their meals together and best of all their are no classes This may surprise a lot of people but a many players even enjoy practice, especially when it's 80 degrees.

This team has proven that they belong in a BCS game by their performance under pressure. This group of Hawks have displayed great leadership on the field. Coach Ferentz and his staff can have a team prepared for what ever Saturday brings but it's the leadership on the field that is the difference between winning and losing in pressure situations.In my opinion the leaders of this team has been the best group that Coach Ferentz has had in a while.

Merry Christmas and see you in Florida

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just Like That

Just like that, the Wildcats were back in the game and Ricky Stanzi was out. The Hawks were off to their best start of the season, and Gary Dolphin and I were feeling as comfortable as we had all season at the end of the first quarter. And then I couldn't believe what I saw. As Gary described the action that included the Stanzi sack, fumble and Northwestern touchdown, I looked through my binoculars at Ricky Stanzi's face. His hands were clenched around his face mask and I could see the pain displayed on his face. That's when I knew he was done for the day and probably longer. The look of pain is so ingrained in my memory, that I can hardly recall what happened just before or just after. The replay showed how the ankle had been caught under his body; it was obviously a severe sprain or break.

So now it's James Vandenberg's team for awhile. I've watched him in practice; he is very skilled. I'd say his release is a little faster than Ricki's. He has good arm strength, great high school passing statistics and almost two years of practice under his belt. He can do the job. He has one week to get ready for what we all know is going to be the Hawks' greatest challenge of the season. Ricki Stanzi will be there to help him get ready, but once the game starts it will be the offensive players around him that must provide leadership. This week in practice those players must step forward and they will.

The good news is that the Hawks can win out and still be Big Ten champions. With Ohio State beating Penn State, the loss to Northwestern has changed nothing. The Hawks must beat OSU. And let's look at it this way: the Buckeyes could be over confident after routing Penn State and learning that the Hawks lost to Northwestern and lost their starting QB. Daydreaming could take over during meetings or practice and performance could suffer on Saturday. Hey, I like this theory.

The Hawks also match up well against the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes like to power the ball down the field and man up on defense. The Hawkeyes are better suited for that type of challenge. As one of the Hawkeye linebackers told me in practice last week, "I wish Northwestern would just line up and play football." Well the Wildcats don't on offense; they have to "dink and dunk" their way down the field. This Saturday, the Buckeyes will line up and play power football; the Hawks like that.

So, let's keep the faith. I'm going to do what Kirk Ferentz prescribes. I'm going to get past Saturday's outcome by Monday and get ready for the Buckeyes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blowin' in the Wind

The Bob Dylan song "Blowin' in the Wind" became popular when I was playing for the Hawkeyes. We used to spend a quarter on the juke box to listen to it while having lunch at the Student Union. While I loved listening to the music, I hated "playing" in the wind. Those of you who were in the stadium on Saturday probably deplored watching in the wind. It was tough to "face the music" for the first three quarters.

Seven of the eight interceptions thrown by both teams were thrown into the wind. Just because you can get a guy open, doesn't mean you can get the ball to him. Most fans know what the wind does to a golf ball or baseball, so just think from that experience what it does to a football. The wind was howling out of the north, which is the least protected part of Kinnick Stadium. If you had been playing golf, Saturday's wind would have been a four club wind. (four iron instead of seven iron from 150 yards) The wind not only cuts down on distance but causes the ball to sail erratically. Both quarterbacks faced almost impossible conditions. All quarterbacks would rather play in rain or snow than wind.

But if you're going to succeed as a quarterback in college or pro football you have to learn how to "play the wind" when you play in the wind. The best I saw while I was playing pro ball was Joe Namath of the Jets. Jets stadium was always one of the windiest places to play because of the ocean winds. Once playing there, while practicing punt returns during pregame, not one punt landed in the field of play. The swirling winds blew some of the balls way up into the stands. Namath knew how to play the wind though and torched us with passes anyway. He would throw the ball 10 or 20 yards left or right of his receiver and let the wind carry it to the right spot. He'd throw it 10 yards past the receiver and let the receiver catch up to it. It was quite a dazzling display.

Another great "wind playing" quarterback returns to Green Bay today to play in the weather. Brett Favre won a lot of games playing for the Packers. But in 16 years at Green Bay he had only two seasons where his passer rating was over 95, and he had nine seasons where it was under 90. The wind from Lake Michigan kept his passer ratings low, but not as low as the opposing quarterbacks. Favre's rating for this season, playing home games in a dome: 104.

Rick Stanzi became a much better quarterback from his experience Saturday. He will be a better "wind playing" quarterback. The next three games may have similar conditions, although Saturdays were extreme. Stanzi will be better prepared and the Hawks will be a better team.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hawks Make History with Last Second Win Over the Spartans

You know the feeling; your eyes open and you think, “Was it a dream?” Well, when I awoke late this morning at the Country Inn and Suites near the Cedar Rapids Airport, the Hawks were still 8 and 0. The team charter landed at about 1 AM last night, and a tired beat-up football team loaded the buses for the trip down to Iowa City. I headed to the hotel to try to get some sleep before heading back to Colorado.

Now that it is Sunday morning, I have finally settled down and I have a chance to examine the Hawks amazing come from behind victory. Coaches preach the importance of a team effort to produce a victory; this was the perfect example. A defensive effort that kept the game close when the offense couldn't gain any momentum, special teams play that produced three field goals and forced MSU to start drives from inside their 20 four times, three times in the second half, and the offense which drove 70 yards with 1:32 left to score six to win. This effort brought victory even though the defense couldn't produce a turnover or the offense couldn't produce a touchdown until the last drive. The Hawks won because of great effort, not great execution. That’s the trait of a winning team. Winning teams become great teams.

The hitting was fierce and both teams suffered player injuries. Greenwood and Sandeman appeared the most serious, as the lay motionless because of concussions. The reaction of the MSU fans to the helmet to helmet hit on Sandeman was unacceptable. I can understand the booing following the assessment of the 15 yard penalty, but the booing while Sandeman is being helped from the field was the most outrageous conduct I think I've ever witnessed in a college stadium.

But in the end, the Spartan fans would be the ones to suffer. The ending was surreal. With two seconds left and the Hawks with one play left, the noise was deafening. It would soon be so quiet that only the few thousand Hawkeye faithful could be heard. Marvin McNutt standing in the end zone holding the ball is frozen in my mind. It happened so quickly, and all I could scream was TOUCHHHDOWNNNN!!!! It took Gary Dolphin a few seconds to quiet me down so he could describe to the fans what happened. But it was really more than a touchdown; it was history being made, the Hawks have gone 8-0 for the first time.

A seven yard slant pass to Marvin McNutt from Rickie Stanzi was the winner. But why the slant pass and not the fade pattern? Most coaches will agree that those are the two best chances you have to score in one play from the seven. I remember Coach Fry and then offensive coordinator Bill Snyder discussing the benefits of each back in the 80's. Coach Fry favored the fade to your tallest receiver. Coach Snyder liked the slant. Coach Fry's position was that the slant pass could be knocked down and never reach the receiver. Coach Snyder argued that the slant was easier to throw and would not end up being a jump ball between the receiver and the defensive back. We'll never know what would have happened had the fade been called. Today we love the fact that Ken O’Keefe called the slant.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Playing a Round at Whistling Straights Golf Club

Well I've got to say it was a lot of fun hanging around Wisconsin this week rubbing it in. My Badger friends were forced to put up with me Sunday through Tuesday, as we traveled from Madison to Kohler to play golf. The weather was delightful and the Whistling Straights Golf Club was impressive. Most golf magazines have it rated as a Top 10 experience, and I'm now one of the believers. The Scottish links experience is so genuine that there are even sheep grazing on the course. I'm looking forward to my next trip back.

I'm also looking forward to this weekend's trip back to East Lansing. Last year's trip was a bummer, and each time I return to MSU, I can't help but remember what it was like to travel up here as a sophomore quarterback to play the number 1 ranked Spartans in 1966. Michigan State was undefeated and had destroyed all of their opponents. I was running as much as I was throwing the ball and that had placed me second in the Big Ten in total offense. As we walked through the East Lansing airport someone handed me a paper and the headline said "all 22 eyes are on you Podolak." The writer told the story of how it was obvious that the defense was going to key in on me. Two of the players quoted were Bubba Smith and George Webster, two All-Americans who after the season would be number 1 draft choices. Needless to say, it was a tough night to sleep.

Well the game started with us driving for a touchdown and getting a lead against Michigan State for the first time by any team that year. This ended up being a major mistake as it just pi***ed them off. The student section started their chant "kill-Bubba-kill" and the game got quickly out of hand. The final score was 56-7, and we even had some guys who refused to go back into the game.

It's a lot more fun to be on this trip. Even though it's going to be cold and wet down on the field, it will be warm and dry in the broadcast booth. And the Hawks match up really well against the Spartans, which should make the 7-0 Hawks the favorites, although the odds-makers don't see it that way. Being the underdog, should help motivate the guys even more.

Michigan State has found success throwing the ball this year, which is a different attack than they used last year to barely beat the Hawks up here. Their passing game is effective partially because they have tall rangey receivers. The Hawk cornerbacks are bigger than most corners so that should help them defend one on one. The Hawks need to shutdown the run and make the Spartans one dimensional.

The Michigan State defense loves to blitz. They lead the league in sacks. They will blitz defensive backs along with linebackers. That means they are covering the tight end with a linebacker. The Hawks would love to catch them trying to cover Tony Moeaki with a linebacker. Look for this match up to produce one of the big plays of the game.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hawks Go 7-0, Beating the Badgers 20-10

In the days of Hayden Fry, it would have been a "Hokie Pokie" locker room. The Hawkeyes carefully dissected the Wisconsin Badgers, 20-10, as Hayden Fry proteges directed each team and another looked on. Barry Alvarez, the athletic director at Wisconsin stopped by as Gary Dolphin and I we're having dinner Friday night at Ruth's Chris, and we had a good time reminiscing about his days as one of Hayden's assistants.

In a stadium of late-arriving, reserved Badger fans, the Hawkeyes got off to a very slow start and did not look anything like the team that had won 6 in a row. The Badgers controlled both lines of scrimmage and at the end of the first quarter the Hawks had only two first downs and a total of 30 yards. Wisconsin had 6 first downs and 74 yards.

The second quarter started in the same pattern as the first with Wisconsin in control. It wasn't until Ricky Stanzi hit Derrell Johnson Koulianos (DJK) for 34 yards and a first down deep into the second quarter, that the Hawks began to turn the tide. From my view point this was a game-changing play. If the Hawks had gone three-and-out for the 3rd consecutive series with Wisconsin leading 10-0, they may have never recovered. Having a healthy DJK in the lineup is critical to the Hawkeyes down the stretch. He has more experience than most of the other receivers and the talent to make big plays. With the field goal that followed this drive, the Hawkeyes started the scoring parade that led to the victory. A lot more big plays followed, but without this one, the rest may have been too late.

With the exception of the Stanzi fumble on an attempted screen pass and the sack in the last drive that added 5 yards to the final field goal, the Hawks played errorless football in the second half. The defense gave up only 58 yards and 3 first downs. Stanzi was 11-13 in the second half as the offensive halftime adjustments were as effective as the defense's adjustments. The plan to throw more square-out patterns to spread the defense worked, as it created more room to run on the inside. The Hawks rushed for only 23 yards in the first half, but 118 in the second half (if you don't count the negative sack yardage.) The Hawkeye coaching staff again proved that they are one of the best in the country at making halftime adjustments.

As for special teans, the kick coverage improved, with punt coverage being outstanding. Donahue punted 3 times for a 50-yard average with no return yardage. This kind of performance each week will take the Hawks a long way toward a Big Ten title. I also think that Colin Sandeman looks very comfortable back on punts. This job gets harder as the weather gets worse and the sun makes catching the ball very difficult when looking south during games with a 11am start. I also like Robinson and Wegher back on kick returns. I feel running backs spot the opening better and know how to protect the ball. I have a feeling one of these guys is going to break one.

This was a picture-perfect victory for the Hawks. They were down 10 points for the second time this year, found a way to fight back and beat a well-coached, talented Wisconsin team at their place. From the press box, the Hawks' domination became obvious as the 3rd quarter wore on and the offense was able to take advantage of the turnovers supplied by the defense. The second half was certainly the best 30 minutes played by the Hawks this year. As every coach loves to say, "It's something to build on."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Michigan Victory, Chiefs Alumni Game, Missouri Hall of Fame

What an experience. It never gets old, in fact it gets better. More than 70,000 thousand people packed into a special place called Kinnick Stadium to watch Iowa humble Michigan on homecoming weekend. Playing a game at night adds so much to the atmosphere. Especially if your sitting up high or one is lucky enough to be in the press box. The world is dark as you look around, but as you look down the football world is brightly lit for 140,000 eyes and the Saturday night national audience to see. The Hawks rewarded their fans with an evening to remember. An evening that had been declared by many, as far back as spring practice, as the "Night to be in Kinnick" during the 2009 season. When the 30-28 score stayed brightly shining and the Iowa students rushed the field, the memories of 28 seasons of doing Hawkeye games on radio rushed through my head. Where do I place this is the list of great days in Kinnick? At that moment it was number one.

So, Sunday morning it's off to Kansas City and the annual Chiefs players alumni game. I always look forward to this Sunday in October as it's a chance to see my teammates, who I share many memories with from 9 years with Chiefs. Each year, enjoying the weekend has become more challenging, because of physical problems due to football injuries that have taken their toll on my Chiefs buddies. There were 40 players on the active roster when we took the field against the Minnesota Vikings for our win in January of 1970. Seven are now deceased and many are walking with the help of a cane or walker. Some are bedridden and a good number are constantly facing another operation. The NFL and The NFL Players Association refuses to provide the assistance that I feel is needed and deserved. I feel so lucky that I'm not one of the many that so dearly needs this help. The Chiefs played well, but lost in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs have now lost 14 in a row. Gosh it's great to be a Hawkeye. Tuesday is the induction ceremony for our Super Bowl team into the Missouri Hall of Fame for our Super Bowl team. The induction took place in Springfield and I enjoyed riding the 3 hours from Kansas City with my Chiefs teammate, Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson. "Lenny the Cool" was one of the great ones to ever strap on a helmet. He has the same job for the Chiefs, providing color for the team's radio broadcast, that I have for the Hawkeyes. Who do you think is having more fun?

The T and C Hunt Club ( south of Fort Scott Kansas is my next stop. My old friend Bud Walker has spent 10 years putting together the property and building the white pine lodge that is a sportsman's dream. I need a shooting lesson, as I have been practicing the "shoot and release" program over the past hunting season. I know missing shots on pheasants and ducks is good for their population, it is not good for the table or the ego. After an hour on the range I was back on my game and ready for pheasant season to open.

Thursday is here and it's time to head for Madison, Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes have work to do and so do I. The Michigan victory is history. I've been able to enjoy it for 5 days. I know the Hawk players have only been able to enjoy it for one day before their thoughts moved on to beating the Badgers. But, then that's the advantage of being a has-been football player and a color analyst.